Story Checklist

Building

Story Checklist:

In Writing Screenplays that Sell, Michael Hauge offers us advise from a structural perspective that echoes that of other screenwriting gurus such as Field, Volgner, McKee, to name but three. Much of this advise can be of benefit to novelists such as myself, seeking to tighten and make supple, the overall shape of their stories. This post provides a checklist, taken from Hauge’s book, which should prove useful to screenwriters and novelists alike.

Story Structure

Structure is nothing other than a series of events that form a relationship to one another relative to their position in the story. Correct structure emerges when the right thing occurs at the right time to solicit maximum emotion and a sense of verisimilitude from the reader or audience.

A well structured story has three acts, or sections, or to state this more simply, it has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning establishes the setting, situation, the characters and their motivation, and the chief goal of the protagonist.

The middle part of the story, also known as the complication, provides, expands and complicates the obstacles to achieving that goal.

The end section resolves the question as to whether or not the goal can be achieved, most typically, through mounting tension and pace manifested through crisis, climax and resolution.

Having established that your story needs to have a properly structured beginning, middle and end, ask and answer the following questions:

Do your scenes do one or more of the following?

1. Contribute to or impede the protagonist’s pursuit of the goal?
2. Accelerate the pace of the story?
3. Build conflict?
4. Contribute to the overall rhythm of the story—fast scenes ought to be followed or preceded by slower ones and tense ones with lighter/humorous ones?
5. Create reader/audience anticipation?
6. Surprise the reader/audience?
7. Foreshadow important events?
8. Create curiosity?
9. Contribute to character development?
10. Put or prepare to put the protagonist in jeopardy?

If the answer to these questions is mostly “yes”, then the chances are that you’re on your way to writing a successful story—at least, from a structural perspective.

Summary

Structure defines the relationship of one scene or event to another. Proper structure allows for such a relationship to heighten the story’s suspense, verisimilitude, and impact.

Invitation

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